July 18, 2011

Do Signers Get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome From Years of Signing?

I often hear about sign language interpreters getting carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur after years of repetitive motion of the hands and wrists. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in the hand and wrist areas (Pub Med Health, 2010).

So if carpal tunnel syndrome has been known to be the result of repetitive use of hands and wrists, do deaf signers, particularly those who use sign language as their primary mode of communication, suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome? I have not found any information on this, and I wondered if this applies to deaf signers, CODAS, or people who have been signing all of their lives when they communicate with others (not when they interpret).

Perhaps it is unlikely for people who use sign language as their primary means of communication, since it is a natural way for them to communicate. I figure that signing with native signers is done with less stress than sign language interpreters signing for their jobs.

Is it common for deaf signers or people who sign as their primary means of communication to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome? Is there anyone who got carpal tunnel syndrome from signing (other than interpreters) not from typing or other repetitive tasks using their hands?



  1. It is more rare for native signers to get carpal tunnel because they grow up with the language and use it fluidly.

    Interpreters often get carpal tunnel because they often have to interpret for long periods of time. They also don't get to decide when to take a break or slow down. They must keep up with the pace of the speaker. Also, the language is not native for them, so they may use signs that are more unnatural. They also need to sign bigger in some instances (such as stage or conference interpreting). They are also more likely to use made-up signs, such as SEE and other non-native signs. All of these can put strain on the wrists. This is why it is imperative that interpreters switch off every 20-30 minutes. Sometimes if a team doesn't show up, the interpreter offers to interpret the entire time, unaware of the strain they are putting on their wrists in the long run. As a Deaf client, I always tell my interpreters to go take a break when they need to, or I interrupt the speaker and ask for a break so that the interpreter can rest for some time.

  2. Anonymous, thanks. That makes sense.

  3. I think that I carry more tension when I'm interpreting (especially platform) than just having a conversation. I tend to feel it in my right elbow when I interpret. I've never had my wrists or elbows hurt while just chatting with deaf people.

    Funny, I also don't have a problem teaching in ASL. I sign for long periods of time at work without pain.

    I wish I could translate that into interpreting! Maybe it has to do with the cognitive demands... Hmm...

  4. ASL is my main mode of communication, and I've never experienced TCS. However, I've felt soreness in my primary hand near the thumb, I think it's mostly from typing on my mobile and driving long distances using my right hand. As a teacher using ASL, I haven't experienced it, but the longest I may have "lectured" or " instructed" in ASL is 20 minutes or so... ~ Janel

  5. Often I see hearing people signing more tightly than native signers. We tend to stress our signs and especially our fingerspelling while native signers sign more fluidly. (Just from what I've seen, but i'm sure it varies from person to person). This is something I'm working on!

    I'd be interested to read if you find any more info!


  6. Yea, I agree with almost everything above. Signing comes natural to most deaf/hh who have been using it all their lives. It is different with interpreters for a variety of reasons.

    I had temporary CT and it was due to being a secretary for 8 years, I got out of that job and CT went away. Strange tho, I am on the computer a lot with my current position. I guess I have more breaks and probably position myself better.

    Interpreters do take breaks and I believe there has to be more than two if it exceeds certain time (not sure of the specifics).

    Maybe interpreters should take up yoga! Breathe in, breathe out, relax, etc. ;o)


  7. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is one kind of repetitive motion injury syndrome. These are most usually due to repeating the same motions, often in an unnatural or strained position. That does not describe ASL. I seriously doubt that signing *causes* CTS. If a signer has CTS, likely the cause is from some other truly repetitive motion, such as computer keyboard use.

    Having said that, CTS that is caused by something else may cause pain while signing and the person may wrongly think that the signing was the cause, when in fact the underlying cause is the other, repetitive motion. With medical issues, sometimes it can be difficult to untangle basic causes from other things that can reproduce the symptom.


  8. Carl Schroeder discussed about Carpal Tunnel and the proper way of signing that could help but his account was removed.

  9. Like signing for box, don't bend your wrist at all, bend your fingers instead, keeping your wrist/hand straight.

  10. It does not matter if you are hearing or deaf. It is the prolonged use of arms and hands in a signing space without proper rest that results in this type of injury. I am a deaf person and I have CTS because of my long teaching hours and and dealing with beginning to intermediate students who often require that you sign slower than normal and facing the class as a whole.


Keep it civil.